1978 Champion Spark Plug Regatta

Mayhem At Miami

By Steve Garey

It was the best of times, and yet it was the worst of times. Noone was at fault, and yet everyone was at fault. And so the confusion raged on as the Unlimiteds kicked off their 1978 season in mediocre style at the 8th annual Champion Spark Plug Regatta in Miami June 4. Muncey's Atlas Van Lines, the race winner, ran the first heat and the final heat alone while the competition succumbed to first-race jitters and mechanical twitters to make for a rather embarassing show. All the credit must go to Jim Lucero and the Atlas crew, who were able to repair their boat and start the final heat after an exploding nitrous oxide bottle ripped the decking off of the U-00 just over the transom. Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser went through three engines during the race and driver Ron Snyder was left floating as the one-minute gun fired for the finals. Atlas set new records for qualifying, lap and heat on the 2-gmile Marine Stadium course on Biscayne Bay.

Muncey's record 125.523 mph qualification lap lead the 8 boat field into the race. Miss Budweiser was next at 119.624, followed by Jon Peddie in the Miss Madison at 105.510 mph, and rookie Chuck King in the U-96 Miss Orange County at 99.778. Mike Wolfbauer's Probe, driven by Milner Irvin, came in at 96.567, and Tom Martin got Bill Wurster's b in with 96.360 mph. Mike Gordon's Seafood Restaurant, with Steve Jones, and Miss Detroit with Terry Turner were allowed to race, although their speeds were shy of the 95 mile-an-hour minimum. Mike Gordon's is really Benning & Kiefer's U-7, and Miss Detroit was Jim McCormick's U-81 Red Man hull, now owned by Brian Keogh.

Heat 1-A had to be restarted after a communications failure on shore was discovered. In the interest of safety, Referee Bill Newton stopped the race on the second lap. At the time Atlas was leading Oberto.

The restart was dismal at test as Miss Madison pulled to the infield at the start, leaving Atlas to run 6 laps alone. Miss Detroit did not start and Oh Boy! Oberto never left the pits.

In a real upset start, Chuck King blasted up the middle in Heat 1-B and grabbed the lead, holding it from start to finish. Miss Budweiser blew a supercharger at the start and crawled around the entire heat. Miss Orange County lapped the Bud on her third go-round. Mike Gordon's went dead in the no.3 corner of lap 1 and did not finish. Probe held second, lapping Bud on lap 5.

The redraw for heat 2 put Atlas, Bud, Orange County and Madison in the first section, but the anticipated showdown of the "hot" boats was over after a quarter of a lap. Miss Budweiser led Atlas over the line.in a flying start with Orange County on the outside. Madison did not start. Snyder led into the first turn, but Muncey hugged the buoyline and entered the backstretch first. Atlas pulled away from then on, setting a new lap record of 120.805 mph. Bud fell back and held second, with Orange County a steady third.

Probe led all the way in a slow Heat 2-B. Oberto followed in second and Miss Detroit stalled after 3/4 of a lap. U-7 withdrew.

Prior to the start of the Final Heat, the nitrous bottle inside the hull of the Atlas exploded. Tim Ramsey, a 19 year old crewman from Seattle, was blown off the deck by the force of the blast and hurled into Biscayne Bay. He was unhurt and returned to help with repairs. A quick wood screw and tape-up job allowed Muncey to run in the finals. The entire episode took place while the boat was on her trailer in the pits.

Now, the fun was about to begin. Miss Budweiser floated, out of the pit area for the Final Heat with a raging stackfire on board.. Snyder was able to contain the blaze, but was unable to muster even a sputter from the U-l's Rolls engine. Atlas roared out with her taped transom. Probe, Oberto and first alternate Miss Detroit floated out onto the course in a line with none of them showing any sign of life in the engine well. Chuck King roared out with his U-% and joined Muncey for the start. The one-minute gun sounded and the two boats came around the final turn. Into the front chute and the run for the line, Miss Orange County experienced a total systems failure and settled flat in the water. Atlas Van Lines started alone and the disgusted race fans, 10,000 strong, packed up their coolers and exited the Marine Stadium enmasse. Referee Newton poured through his rule book looking for some statute that covered such a bizarre chain of events. Meanwhile, Muncey was completing his laps and received the checkered flag. The race was over. Bill Muncey had won his third Champion race in a row, his fourth overall.

It was an embarassing victory for Muncey, or so he said as he received his trophy. Questions were flying everywhere in the wake of the regatta: Why was the final heat allowed to continue? Why didn't Muncey pull off the course and demand a restart, for the good of the sport? How many more shaky Unlimited events at Miami will the sponsoring Champion Spark plug Corporation put up with? And, the ultimate question: What would have happened if, say, Miss Detroit was the only boat running at the start?

A complicated state of affairs, to be sure, shrouded the finish of this year's season opening event. When the smoke clears, however, the fact will remain that Bill Muncey recorded career victory number 45 before a bewildered crowd of spectators who paid to see competition between the world's fastest race boats and saw an exhibition instead.

8Th Annual Champion Spark Plug Regatta
Final Standings
1. U-00 Atlas Van Lines Bill Muncey; Lamesa, Calif. 1200 Pts.
2. U-50 Probe Milner Irvin; Coral Gahles, Fla. 700
3. U-96 Miss Orange County Chuck King; San Juan, Capistrano 625
4. U-1 Miss Budweiser Ron Snyder; Piqua, Ohio 525
5- U-8 Oh Boy! Oberto Tom Martin; Seattle, Wash. 300
X. U-6 Miss Madison Jon Peddie; Madison, Ind. 0
X. U-70 Miss Detroit Terry Turner; Fullerton, Cal. 0
X. U-7 Mike Gordon's Seafood Restaurant Steve Jones; Helen, Ga. 0

— Unlimiteds Detroit